Bahraini Salafists in Spotlight

News article, posted 06.19.2013, from Bahrain, in:
Husain Marhoon
Bahraini Salafists in Spotlight (Photo: Reuters)

At the beginning of 2013, 19-year-old Abdurrahman al-Hamd left Bahrain for Syria, driven by a desire to fight in the jihad and to heed the many calls issued by Islamic centers for people to fight against the Syrian regime. On May 28, Abdurrahman returned home in a coffin.

Immediately afterward, his relatives rushed to publish photos of him in battle, one of which showed him — Kalashnikov rifle in hand — atop a military vehicle flying the Jabhat al-Nusra flag.

His father, Sheikh Adel al-Hamd, a Salafist preacher and the imam of a mosque in the al-Rifa' region south of the capital Manama, said in an audio recording, “He fulfilled his wish.”

Just a few days passed before further news emerged about the deaths of four more young men, which pushed the death toll to five Bahrainis killed in the span of just one week. Websites subsequently published photos of one of them, Abdul-Aziz al-Uthman, wearing the military uniform of the Bahraini Defense Forces in one of the areas controlled by the Syrian mujahideen.

Salafism modified

Until recently, it was believed that the prominent Salafist movement in Bahrain was a traditional one that swore absolute obedience to its leader and forbade all forms of political activities. Even with slight modifications to this line of thought — which lifted the prohibition on political action under the religious premise of allowing "an evil to occur in order to prevent a greater evil from occurring" — absolute obedience to the ruler remained a central tenet of Bahraini Salafism.

The Al-Asalah Islamic Society, which was established in 2002, is considered the most prominent faction espousing this line of thought, and is the main Bahraini Salafist movement.

Al-Asalah, which has close ties with Saudi Arabia, is represented by four MPs in the Bahraini parliament and controls one cabinet portfolio in the current government. Throughout its 10 years of overt political work, Al-Asalah exhibited great synergy with the Bahraini regime. It also expressed its unequivocal rejection of al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, and his jihadist Salafist philosophy.

As a result, Bahrainis never before participated in any operations carried out against the outside world.

But between 2003 and 2012, the Bahraini Interior Ministry announced the uncovering of numerous Salafist cells that it accused of “raising money” for al-Qaeda and “training with the aim of striking against Western interests” as well as “taking photographs of vital installations.” Reports confirmed the incarceration of six Bahraini Salafists in the prison at the US Guantanamo Bay naval base on the island of Cuba, two in Saudi Arabia and one in Kuwait for similar infractions. Despite that fact, it remains difficult to prove whether any of those people actually participated in operations carried out by al-Qaeda.

All of those men were subsequently released, including the ones that were taken at different intervals to Guantanamo after having been sold out by clans inhabiting the Pakistani border region.


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